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John Paul Jones

 


"I have not yet begun to fight."

Attribution: Reply to the British ship Serapis. The exact wording of his reply is uncertain, and several accounts exist. The standard version above is from an account of the engagement by one of Jones’ officers, First Lieutenant Richard Dale.—John Henry Sherburne, The Life and Character of John Paul Jones, 2d ed., p. 121 (1851).

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Date: September 23, 1779

John Paul Jones

1747–1792

American naval hero. Born near Kirkcudbright, Scotland. His name was originally just John Paul. John Paul went to sea when he was only 12. He was chief mate on a slave ship in 1766 but, disgusted with the work, soon quit. In 1769 he obtained command of the John, a merchantman that he captained until 1770. In 1773, while Jones was in command of the Betsy off Tobago, members of his crew mutinied and he killed a sailor in self-defense. To avoid trial he fled. In 1775 he was in Philadelphia, with the Jones added to his name, he obtained for him a commission in the Continental navy. In 1777, Jones was given command of the Ranger. He sailed to France, then daringly took the war to the shores of the British Isles on raids. In 1778, he captured the Drake, a British warship. It was, however, only after long delay that he was given another ship, an old French merchantman, which he rebuilt and named the Bon Homme Richard (“Poor Richard”), to honor Benjamin Franklin. He set out with a small fleet but was disappointed in the hope of meeting a British fleet. On Sept. 23, 1779, he did encounter the British merchantmen, convoyed by the frigate Serapis and a smaller warship. The battle, which lasted three and a half hours, was one of the most memorable in naval history. Jones sailed close in, to cut the advantage of the Serapis, and finally in the battle lashed the Bon Homme Richard to the British ship. Both ships were heavily damaged. The Serapis was afire in at least 12 different places. The hull of the Bon Homme Richard was pierced, her decks were ripped, her hold was filling with water, and fires were destroying her, unchecked; yet when the British captain asked if Jones was ready to surrender, the answer came proudly, “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight.” When the Serapis surrendered, Jones and his men boarded her while his own vessel sank. He was much honored in France for the victory but received little recognition in the United States.

 

 

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